The Canadians will get a rematch with Finland, which came second in Group A, in the semi-finals. The U.S. will face the Sweden-Czechia quarter-final winner.
Confidence-wise, it was imperative for Canada to put some pucks in the net. In a tough preliminary round, coach Howie Draper’s team fired more shots on net than any other team (121) but were snakebitten with just three goals. The Canadians got shut out 2-0 by Finland – an historic first loss to the Nordic nation – and 7-0 by the defending champion Americans. And despite outshooting Sweden 56-34, Canada only won 3-1.
Of facing Finland again, blueliner Sara Swiderski, who was named Canada's player of the game, said: "I'm super-excited. I think last game, we were a little bit flat-footed, and we've really been moving our feet now. So I think we're gonna take them."
"I think we need to move the puck as well as we did in this game," said McKenna van Gelder, who had a goal and an assist. "And we really need to get shots on net but quality shots from inside their house. We really need to have numbers in the neutral zone. It's what we talked about a lot, back pressure, forecheck, and just pulling for each other. Once again, that's a huge thing that is part of our Canadian identity."
The Canadians, who never lack motivation, looked more composed and consistent than before versus Slovakia. Ava Murphy and Alyssa Regalado added a goal and an assist apiece. Madison Chantler, Karel Prefontaine, Jordan Baxter, and Emma Pais added singles. Assistant captain Sarah MacEachern had three assists.
Canada is seeking its sixth gold medal of all time after settling for silver at the last tournament in 2020. Meanwhile, this is just Slovakia's second U18 Worlds ever. The Central European nation debuted as the host nation (Bratislava) in 2020.
Jade Iginla made an unexpected return to the Canadian lineup. Hockey Canada announced on 6 June that the RHA Kelowna forward was out for the tournament due to an upper-body injury. Her father, NHL and Olympic legend Jarome Iginla, was at LaBahn Arena to watch her IIHF debut.
"Oh my gosh!" Murphy said about Iginla's return. "We found out at breakfast this morning and we were super-happy for her. She's a great player. And just having her on the bench, having her in the room again fully dressed, meant a lot to our team."
Canada outshot Slovakia 65-5.
Goalie Mari Pietersen, one of six Etobicoke Dolphins on this Canadian roster, got the quarter-final start and the win/shutout after Hailey MacLeod allowed five goals on 17 shots versus the Americans. That shellacking left MacLeod with a 4.98 GAA and 80.0 save percentage. Pietersen made 33 saves in the win over Sweden and also relieved MacLeod midway through the U.S. game.
Slovak goalie Livia Debnarova, a 16-year-old from HC Detva 07, made 58 stops. She was heroic to keep the score respectable for more than half the game.
"It was hard, but I think it was fun, because a game like this is not every day," said Debnarova.
"There were not many shots for us this game, but it was also good preparation for the next game on defense, to survive [in your own zone]," said Slovak coach Gabriela Sabolova. "One shift our girls were on the ice three minutes and Canada changed lines three times. We thought they were going to die on the ice!"
The Slovaks, promoted under unusual circumstances due to the expulsion of Russia, overachieved simply by making it this far. Earning a return to the 2023 U18 Women’s Worlds is a blessing for Sabolova’s squad, whose average age is 16. The Slovaks have two 2007-born skaters, including 14-year-old forward Ema Tothova.
Just 52 seconds in, Canada drew first blood. MacEachern picked up the puck at the left point and sent it in front to an unguarded Chantler, who put a forehander past Debnarova. The 17-year-old forward from London, Ontario, who had been pressing, couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she headed back to centre ice for the faceoff.
"It definitely helped us and it brought the smiles and the spirits up," Canadian assistant coach Vicky Sunohara said about getting the first goal. "I think we were able to keep the energy going because of it."
Debnarova kept battling with good saves on Chantler’s linemates, Jocelyn Amos and Prefontaine, from close range. But Canada just kept coming, hemming the Slovaks in their zone. When the puck squirted out of the corner to the goalie’s right, van Gelder grabbed it and pivoted in the slot to fling a high one home at 9:31. Iginla got her first tournament point with an assist on the play.
Even in the first period, Slovakia visibly struggled to keep up with Canada’s torrid pace. First-period shots favoured Canada 25-1.
At 5:32 of the second period, Regalado made it 3-0. She sent the puck back to van Gelder and then jumped into the slot to take the return feed, calmly stickhandling before depositing the puck past Debnarova.
Canada went up 4-0 at 10:25. When Swiderski's long shot bounced off the back boards behind the net, fellow defender Murphy jumped in to collect the puck and centred it to Prefontaine, who made no mistake.
Disher drew a penalty, and then the Canadian captain thought she'd scored on a high backhander from the slot. The goal, however, was subjected to an extended video review and waved off for goalie interference. The Canadians have still not scored a power play goal at this tournament.
In the third period, Murphy followed up on her own rebound to make it 5-0 at 1:36. Swiderski then hit two cross bars in rapid succession as Canada turned up the heat.
Murphy praised Debnarova's efforts: "Amazing goalie. She had so many shots. And I think she stood on her head for that team. So big congratulations to her. I think it just taught us we're not here to score pretty goals. It's not always gonna come easy. So just get bodies in front of the net, get those rebounds."
Baxter put Canada up 6-0 at 12:25, powering down the left side and cutting to the net to stuff the puck through Debnarova. Pais shoveled in a rebound at 18:37 to round out the scoring.
Sabolova emphasized the value of the learning experience: "We knew this was one of the favourites in the tournament. I think this was our first game against Canada's U18 team in history. It was really like winning a lottery, like a present for us to have such a such a possibility to play these good players and for our team. It was like a chance for us learn to next time to step up in our D zone and on the defensive side of the play."
Slovakia's Lily Stern was proud of her team's effort as well: "We quite literally made history. And I'm really happy to be staying up in this division, so the younger generations can also try it out and see how they do."
This was just the second time in IIHF history that Canada has played in a U18 Women’s Worlds quarter-final. In 2018, the Canadians defeated the Czechs 3-1. Willow Slobodzian’s power-play goal in the second period proved to be the winner. Captain Sarah Fillier, a future gold medalist at the 2021 Women’s Worlds and 2022 Olympics, drew an assist on the play.